Obesity Effects Depression

Both obesity and depression statistics indicate that the two conditions are quite common in the general population. Depression statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008) report that in any given two-week period, five percent of Americans have depression.

Obesity is more common than depression, with over 32 percent of adult American males and 35.5 percent of American women currently obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (2010). Cases of depression and obesity often occur together, raising questions about which condition triggers the other.

Effects of Obesity on Depression

A link between obesity and mental health has been considered for some time. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that in one in four cases, effects of obesity include an accompanying mood disorder.

Attempts to prove that obesity causes depression or, conversely, that depression causes obesity, have produced mixed results. Recent studies suggest that the relationship between depression and obesity is more complex than previously thought. A reciprocal relationship appears to exist between depression and obesity. In other words, obesity does indeed increase the risk of depression, but depression also increases the risk of obesity.

A 2010 Dutch study provides evidence that the causal relationship between obesity and depression goes both ways. Researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center (2010) examined data from 15 studies of obesity and depression that involved 58,000 participants, excluding patients who were depressed prior to the onset of obesity. This study revealed some interesting obesity and depression statistics. Obesity increased the risk of depression by 55 percent.

These researchers also discovered that for people who were of normal weight, depression increased the risk of developing obesity by 58 percent. This suggests that obese individuals may benefit from depression screening, and that helping depressed individuals control their weight may decrease depression symptoms.

Gender, Depression and Obesity

Depression statistics show that this condition affects twice as many women as men. Women are slightly more likely to be obese, according to researchers at the Maricopa Integrated Health System in Phoenix, Arizona (2010). Their research suggests that obese women are 39 times more likely to suffer from depression than those of normal weight. In contrast, obese men are only 2.54 times more likely to be depressed, compared to men of normal weight.

These findings are perhaps not surprising. Popular concepts of body image and thinness affect women more than men. Obesity self-image is more likely to be negative in women because of society’s ideal of the thin woman, an ideal that doesn’t have as powerful a male counterpart.

These studies prove just how fluid the relationship between obesity, self-image and depression can be. Treatment plans for both obesity and depression may require modification to reflect these findings. After all, one of the most common side effects of depression medication is weight gain. The low success rate for dieting, the standard treatment for obesity, often results in feelings of guilt, which can worsen depression symptoms.


Brooks, M. (2010). Obesity and depression are a two-way street. Retrieved June 7, 2010, from http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6234RF20100304.

Flegal, K., Carroll, M., Ogden, C.